Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system took a hit on March 1, 2016, when the state’s Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the provision in the 2013 Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Act that prohibits workers’ comp claims from workers who have been employed less than 180 days.
The high court’s ruling came less a week after the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission ruled portions of the state’s opt-out provision of the worker’s comp statute to be unconstitutional as well.
The case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Torres v. Seaboard Foods LLC (Case No. 113649), involves an employee who suffered cumulative injuries after working only 120 days.
The Court explained that the administrative law judge had sided with the employer in denying the claim because the employee had not worked the necessary 180-day period. The decision of the ALJ subsequently was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
On appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the 180-day provision, which essentially cuts off an injured worker from any kind of remedy under the law, “violates the Due Process Section of the Oklahoma Constitution.”
The justices also found the provision to be plainly unfair.
The 180-day cutoff creates “a classification that completely bars Petitioner and others in Petitioner’s position from recovering for their injuries at all. In this regard, the 180-day line separating who may recover for potentially identical injuries on cumulative trauma grounds is not only arbitrary, but fundamentally unjust,” wrote Vice Chief Justice Douglas Combs in a concurring opinion. (Emphasis in the original.)
Justice Tom Colbert, also in a concurring opinion, stated that “with the enactment of the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act (AWCA), the balance is now off kilter and has become one-sided to the benefit of the employer.”